Sunday, October 17, 2010

Catena Zapata and the Wine Floor

With the day's tasting tour over, it was time to check out our new digs in Mendoza city proper. We'd decided on a newer "executive" hotel that featured special wine floors and we were rather hopeful that the added wine attractions would make for a bit of special stay.

The hotel was nicely appointed and well located - right across the street from the Plaza Italia - one of the five main plazas or small parks in the central grid of Mendoza city. We had a bit of time to pass though. One thing we quickly learned about Argentina is that most Mendocinans would never consider going out for dinner before 9 or 10 pm. Rather than sit all alone over dinner, we took a bit of a walking tour of the neighbourhood before heading back to the hotel to capitalize on the wine floor.

Considering it was around 5 p.m. on a Friday night, our little walk was fairly uneventful. The main core of the city seemed fairly compact and was a combination of new and old, renewal projects and classically maintained, seemingly clean and safe - but with armed military quite prominent throughout the place and, particularly, in each of the aforementioned plazas. We didn't quite know what to make of the soldiers/guards. Presumably they might have been there to ensure the safety of tourists, but it did leave us wondering just what was at risk.

There was clearly some confusion over our reservation; however, we were ultimately located on the Catena Zapata floor. Considering our bookings were managed by our agent, I don't know the value difference between staying on one of the wine floors versus the standard floors, but the additional "wine-based" components didn't exactly jump out to us as much on the value-added front. Other than a bottle of entry level wine and a photo of the winery over the bed, I don't know that there was anything of note. I was rather hoping for a tasting lounge on the floor and/or more of a tie in or history of the winery that was the supposed focus of our floor.

618. 2008 Alamos Malbec (Mendoza - Argentina)

Admittedly, I wouldn't have expected a bottle of Catena Zapata's icon wines, but I had thought that there might be more of an opportunity to learn about and/or liaise with the winery than the bottle of Alamos. Not that we didn't open it and manage to finish it off without any difficulty. There was very little information about the winery in the room and what little I now know was found on the internet. If the non-wine floor rooms were similar in layout, I'd say that you wouldn't need the additional flavour and cost of the wine floor.

It seems that most of the thousand or so wineries in Mendoza province have at least two brands that they market under. Catena Zapata was chosen as one of the signature wineries for the five wine floors, but it's not the Alamos that garnered them that "honour." Not too surprisingly, Catena Zapata is yet another winery that revolves around a multi-generational effort from a family that immigrated to Mendoza in the late 1800's from - you guessed it - Italy.

Nicola Catena sailed from Italy in 1898 and planted his first Malbec vines in 1902. I like the story on their website that relates how he "celebrated leaving the famine in Europe for this plentiful land by eating a piece of virtually raw beef for breakfast each morning." Producing fruit for sale and bulk wine throughout the better part of the 20th Century, the difficulties tied up with the 1960's and Argentina's economic and political troubles resulted in American-trained grandson Nicolas Catena taking over the reins of the company and moving the winery more towards the production of a premium, export worthy wine.

Although he apparently didn't have as much faith in the Malbec varietal as his grandfather and father, Nicolas worked towards the identification of those conditions that could produce the best Malbec possible. In 1989, he oversaw the planting of 145 Malbec clones and, after a couple of years, narrowed it down to five clones that he concentrated on in the winery's best vineyards. Those efforts have resulted in consistently well regarded wines.

We didn't actually visit the winery; however, by coincidence, we could see the iconic winery building from one of the neighbouring vineyards that was on our itinerary.

In Argentina, the Alamos Malbec is a 100% varietal that is a blend of grapes from four different vineyards. An Alamos Malbec can be found outside of Argentina; however, it sees the Malbec blended with 5% each of Cab Sauv and Bonarda. It would have been interesting to try the two Malbecs side by side.

In retrospect, there wasn't much about the wine floor that got us excited about Catena Zapata. All the same, I'll keep an eye out for their wines in Vancouver to give them the sort of tasting that would have been nice down there.

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